Saint of the Day – 10 August – St Lawrence of Rome (Died 258) – Martyr and Deacon (Archdeacon – distributor of alms and “Keeper of the Treasures of the Church”) Born at Huesca, Spain – cooked to death on a gridiron on 10 August 258). St Lawrence was one of the seven Deacons of the City of Rome, under Saint Pope Sixtus II who were martyred in the persecution of the Christians by decree of the Roman Emperor Valerian ordered in 258. His remains were buried in the cemetery of Saint Cyriaca on the road to Tivoli, Italy. His tomb was opened by Pelagius to inter the body of Saint Stephen the Martyr and his mummified head removed to the Quirinal Chapel. The gridiron believed to have been his deathbed is in San Lorenzo in Lucina and his garments in Our Lady’s Chapel in the Lateran Palace. Patronages – against fire, against lumbago, of archives, archivists, armories, armourers, brewers, butchers, chefs, cooks, comedians, comediennes, cutlers, deacons, glaziers, laundry workers, librarians, libraries, paupers, the poor, restauranteurs, schoolchildren, students, seminarians, stained glass workers, tanners, vine growers, vintners, wine makers, Ceylon, Sri Lanka, 38 cities and dioceses.
Saint Lawrence was chief of the seven Roman deacons of Pope Sixtus II who had been his mentor in Spain and taken him to Rome and ordained him as Deacon there, after he had been called to the Holy Office. In 258, Emperor Valerian increased his persecutions of the Christians. One day when Pope Sixtus II was in the cemetery of Saint Calistus celebrating Mass accompanied by some members of his clergy, he was arrested. Along with him, the other six Roman deacons were arrested. As the soldiers took the Pontiff to be put to death, Lawrence followed him in anguish crying out: “Where are you going, my father, without your son? Where are you going, Holy Pontiff, without your deacon? Isn’t it the custom to offer the sacrifice with an assistant? Let me prove I am worthy of the choice you made when you entrusted me with the distribution of the Blood of Our Lord.”
The Pope replied to Saint Lawrence: “I am not leaving you, my son. They are lenient on old men, not the youth. A greater combat is reserved for you. You will follow me in three days.” With the Pontiff’s execution, Lawrence was the highest ranking church authority left in Rome.
Saint Lawrence was brought before Cornelius Secularis, prefect of Rome under the Emperor Valerian, who, according to Dom Prosper Guéranger in his Liturgical Year: “aimed at ruining the Christians by prohibiting their assemblies, putting their chief men to death, and confiscating their property.” Saint Lawrence asked for a short delay, so he could gather these riches for the prefect and true to the promise of Pope Sixtus, returned three days after the pontiff’s death to hand them over. However, heeding Pope Sixtus II’s final words, Lawrence used his three days to distribute the material wealth of the Church to the poor, before the Roman authorities could lay their hands on it.
When the archdeacon returned, instead of bringing vessels of gold and silver, he brought the poor of the city, saying, “Behold, these choice pearls, these sparkling gems that adorn the temple, these sacred virgins, I mean, and these widows who refuse second marriage…. Behold then, all our riches.” In response to his boldness, Cornelius ordered the scourging and torture of Saint Lawrence upon the rack.
From the Liturgical Year:
“…Lawrence was taken down from the rack about midday. In his prison, however, he took no rest but wounded and bleeding as he was, he baptised the converts won to Christ by the sight of his courageous suffering. He confirmed their faith and fired their souls with a martyr’s intrepidity. When the evening hour summoned Rome to its pleasures, the prefect recalled the executioners to their work, for a few hours’ rest had sufficiently restored their energy to enable them to satisfy his cruelty.”
Surrounded by this ill-favoured company, the prefect thus addressed the valiant deacon: ‘Sacrifice to the gods, or else the whole night long shall be witness of your torments.’ ‘My night has no darkness,’answered Laurence, ‘and all things are full of light to me.’ They struck him on the mouth with stone, but he smiled and said, ‘I give Thee thanks, O Christ.’
Then an iron bed or gridiron with three bars was brought in and the saint was stripped of his garments and extended upon it while burning coals were placed beneath it. As they were holding him down with iron fork, Lawrence said ‘I offer myself as a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness.’ The executioners continually stirred up the fire and brought fresh coals, while they still held him down with their forks. Then the saint said: ‘Learn, unhappy man, how great is the power of my God; for your burning coals give me refreshment but they will be your eternal punishment. I call Thee, O Lord, to witness: when I was accused, I did not deny Thee; when I was questioned, I confessed Thee, O Christ; on the red-hot coals I gave Thee thanks.’ And with his countenance radiant with heavenly beauty, he continued: ‘Yea, I give Thee thanks, O Lord Jesus Christ, for that Thou hast deigned to strengthen me.’ He then raised his eyes to his judge and said: ‘See, this side is well roasted; turn me on the other and eat.’ Then, continuing his canticle of praise to God [he said]: ‘I give Thee thanks, O Lord, that I have merited to enter into Thy dwelling place.’
As he was on the point of death, he remembered the Church. The thought of the eternal Rome gave him fresh strength and he breathed forth this ecstatic prayer: ‘O Christ, only God, O Splendour, O Power of the Father, O Maker of heaven and earth and builder of this city’s walls! Thou has placed Rome’s sceptre high over all; Thou hast willed to subject the world to it, in order to unite under one law the nations which differ in manners, customs, language, genius, and sacrifice. Behold the whole human race has submitted to its empire and all discord and dissensions disappear in its unity. Remember thy purpose: Thou didst will to bind the immense universe together into one Christian Kingdom. O Christ, for the sake of Thy Romans, make this city Christian; for to it Thou gavest the charge of leading all the rest to sacred unity. All its members in every place are united – a very type of Thy Kingdom; the conquered universe has bowed before it. Oh! may its royal head bowed in turn! Send Thy Gabriel and bid him heal the blindness of the sons of Iulus, that they may know the true God. I see a prince who is to come – an Emperor who is a servant of God. He will not suffer Rome to remain a slave; he will close the temples and fasten them with bolts forever.’
Thus he prayed and with these last words, he breathed forth his soul. Some noble Romans who had been conquered to Christ by the martyr’s admirable boldness, removed his body: the love of the most high God had suddenly filled their hearts and dispelled their former errors. From that day, the worship of the infamous gods grew cold; few people went now to the temples but hastened to the altars of Christ. Thus Lawrence, going unarmed to the battle, had wounded the enemy with his own sword.”
The burned body of Saint Lawrence was carried away by converted Roman Senators who buried him in a grotto in the Verano field, near Tivoli. On this day, the reliquary containing his burnt head is displayed in the Vatican for veneration. His feast spread throughout Italy and northern Africa after his martyrdom—and even Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote a beautiful sermon on St Lawrence’s life, connecting his “treasures of the Church” to martyrdom and the Holy Eucharist. Emperor Constantine built a beautiful basilica in Lawrence’s honour. Saint Lawrence is especially honoured in the city of Rome, where he is one of the city’s patrons. There are several churches in Rome dedicated to him, including San Lorenzo in Panisperna, traditionally identified as the place of his execution. The gridiron on which he was grilled is venerated there today.
Since the Perseid Meteor Shower typically occurs every year in mid-August, on or near Saint Lawrence’s feast day, some refer to the shower as the “Burning Tears of Saint Lawrence.” Saint Lawrence, for his care and love of the poor, is considered their patron. For having saved the treasures of the Church—including its documents, he is recognized as the patron saint of librarians. For his courage in being grilled to death, he is also the patron saint of cooks and kitchen workers.
St Lawrence pray for us all!